The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Better Roads has issued a report calling for central government to re-instate targeted and accountable support along with multi-year settlements for local road maintenance.
The report – researched and part-funded by the AIA, which jointly supports the APPG – draws on a review of the Pothole Action Fund (2015/16-2020/21) using data from the AIA’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey reports. It demonstrates that the Pothole Action Fund was a successful policy which contributed to marked improvements in the overall structural conditions on the local road network – but since its replacement gains made have been lost.
The Pothole Action Fund formed part of a six-year commitment specifically allocated to English local authorities. Highway teams were able to use the secure funding for preventative maintenance and resurfacing works as well as pothole repairs. Analysis for the APPG for Better Roads indicates that this budgetary specificity led to a marked improvement in the proportion of the local network classed as being in a ‘good condition’ with 12,377 miles, or 7% of the English local road network, moving into this category during the life of the Fund.
In contrast, since 2021 when the Pothole Action Fund was incorporated into councils’ general block highway funding from the Department for Transport (DfT), the number of roads classed as ‘good’ has gone into reverse. The APPG report points to data that shows there are now 5% fewer – 8,811 miles of English local roads – in this category than 2020/21, the last year of the Fund.
Informed by ALARM data, the APPG report also highlights that shortfalls in local authority annual highways maintenance funding have been rising steeply – up 82% – since the Pothole Action Fund ceased to be targeted solely to road maintenance.
Sir Christopher Chope OBE MP, Chairman, APPG for Better Roads, said: “Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have pledged to tackle the ‘plague of potholes’ on our local roads. But, as this report shows, funding for local road maintenance is falling and the Government’s assumption that hard pressed local authorities will spend allocations on roads is not enough.
“The roll out of autonomous vehicles and decarbonising transport will place even greater funding pressure on our local road network in the years ahead. That’s why we are calling for a Better Roads Fund to be created with longer term funding commitments, direct budget allocation and full transparency on allocation.”
“This Better Roads Fund would help deliver a sustained improvement in road conditions and enhanced network resilience. It would also save money over the long term and ensure our local roads are able to support the challenges ahead.”
Rick Green, Chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), said: “It’s not surprising that the APPG for Better Roads report highlights that targeted Government action delivers better local road conditions and that a longer-term approach to investment with direct budget allocations is what’s needed to make sure improvements are sustained.
He added: “Local highway maintenance budget shortfalls only lead to declining road conditions and a rising bill to put it right. With the AIA’s ALARM 2023 reporting that the backlog of repairs on English local roads is now more than £12 billion, a longer-term approach is needed. That’s why we back this call for targeted Better Roads fund, which would help fix our roads and better support a lower carbon whole-life approach to road maintenance.”
The full report ‘Working for better roads: A call for the re-instatement of targeted and accountable support for local road maintenance is available to download from the APPG for Better Roads website here.